President Trump went to West Virginia this month to talk about tax cuts, but he got a bit distracted. He talked about China, the North American Free Trade Agreement, border security, “sanctuary cities” and states he won in 2016. Eventually he turned to his prepared comments on taxes.
“This was going to be my remarks,” he said, holding up a sheet of paper. “It would have taken about two minutes, but” — and here he threw the paper over his shoulder — “to hell with it. That would have been a little boring. A little boring. Right. Now I’m reading off the first paragraph, I said, ‘This is boring.’”
If Mr. Trump has lost some interest in the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that he signed into law last year — even though the White House keeps scheduling events to promote it, including one in Florida on Monday — well, the country is right there with him. A brief flurry of activity is planned this week by supporters and opponents of the new law, to coincide with Tuesday’s filing deadline for 2017 income taxes. But otherwise, by all sorts of metrics, Americans aren’t talking very much about a law that Republicans had hoped to make a centerpiece of their midterm election message.
Consider one of Mr. Trump’s preferred yardsticks: cable news coverage. Throughout the fall, as Republicans rushed their tax bill through Congress in two breakneck months, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC routinely devoted 10 percent of their daily coverage to tax issues, according to data from the Gdelt Project. Interest spiked as Mr. Trump signed the bill in late December, and then it fell precipitously:
Several topics on cable have displaced taxes. In March, mentions of the word “Stormy” spiked on MSNBC and CNN, for example. All three networks have begun talking more about “trade” over the past two months, as Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and threatened additional tariffs on products imported from China.
Trade concerns have overtaken tax cut inquiries among users of online search engines, too. Data from Google Trends shows a surge of searches for the “tax cut” topic in November and December. It died down in January — just as interest in “tariff” searches picked up.
Even Mr. Trump has struggled to keep his focus on tax issues since signing the bill. He tweeted the word “tax” about as much from January through the end of March as he did in December alone. His overall discussion of taxes — in speeches, interviews, news conferences, videos and Twitter — also declined through the end of March from late last year. Instead, Mr. Trump is talking and tweeting more about trade.
Congressional Republicans have pushed hard to keep tax cuts in the news, in the belief that they will be a potent electoral weapon for the fall. So have liberal organizers, who have held rallies protesting the overhaul throughout the winter and early spring, believing that opposition to it will galvanize support for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.
For two months after the bill passed, it appeared that Republicans, buoyed by a surge of corporate employee bonus announcements linked to the new law, were right to press their case. The law’s poll numbers improved from dismal levels before its passage. But as those bonus announcements died down — and the conversation around the law died, too — public support waned again. Interviews with voters in swing states suggest that the law may not have much power to move them to support Republicans this fall, and the party abandoned tax-themed ads in a special House election in Pennsylvania last month.
A new poll by the online research firm Survey Monkey for The New York Times shows the public almost evenly split on the law, with 48 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. That is down from a 51 percent approval rating in February, and it suggests that the law may have hit a high-water mark among voters — if they’re even thinking about it anymore.
Jeremy Bowers and Rachel Shorey contributed research.